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“Mind lock” is a phrase that is used by one of my friends in Wing Chun, an esteemed teacher who referred to those who could not open their minds to new ideas and experiences. Mind lock is something that we should all strive to avoid.

When it comes to improving a skill there are a few things that are constant no matter what it is you are trying to improve. The first is developing an understanding of what you are doing and how to do it. The second is correct repetition of the skill itself. The third is being able to apply the skill in a varied set of circumstances. The fourth is being able to apply the skill in a fluid, constantly changing situation or environment.

One or more of those may not apply to some skills in this world. However the majority of them do. However if we look at those individual aspects we find that there is a bit of a chicken and egg situation.

When we begin learning a skill we will not have a full understanding of it. So how can we practice it correctly? Having a good teacher or coach is one way to fast development, but lets take that out of the equation for the moment.

You need to practice the skill as correctly as you understand it at the time. This is where the idea of mind lock comes in. There are some people who will practice a skill in a way that they understand it, and they will perfect that skill at that level. They will refuse to develop things further.

Our learning should be constantly fluid. The more you practice something and the more you strive to understand it, the better the improvement you will make. Sometimes after a while you may have an “aha” moment – that’s not a reference to an eighties pop band by the way – and you may have to go right back to the beginning again and almost learn the skill from scratch.

When I took a lesson off Simon Westgarth from Gene17 I found that I had to completely re-examine the way that I had previously understood the forward stroke. I then had to go away and retrain my muscle memory. I cannot guarantee that I am doing it perfectly even now a year or so on, but I do have a much better understanding and I am now able to place much more power into the stroke and become less fatigued during the day.

No doubt if I get some more coaching off him he will correct my stroke further, and so the process of learning continues.

There are many things that he taught me that day, but there are some who would not be as accepting of his methods. Why? Because they differ from the methods that are often traditionally taught and completely throw out of the window others that even now are being shown in BCU syllabuses up and down the country.

So why do some of Simon’s methods differ from the traditional ideas? It’s because he doesn’t suffer from mind lock. He has examined the methods needed to deal with water in varied situations and has been honest in realising that many traditional techniques simply do not work and are not suited to modern kayak designs.

He has developed his skills based upon taking a step back and really looking at what is in front of him. This is what we should all be doing, but unfortunately many do not. You can see the way he has developed his methods from his DVDs, with the boof stroke being a prime example of how he has changed his preferred method from only a few years ago.

This mindset should also be applied to where we paddle too. Until the summer of 2013 I cannot say that I was overjoyed at the idea of paddling at Cardiff International White Water. I always swam there, and I always found it to be punishing. I hated the swim that was often required to get my boat back at the bottom too.

When the club decided to keep going to Cardiff I stopped going there. It was a conversation with Ross Montandon of New Wave Coaching that changed my mind. Ross is a true advocate of using what resources you have at any given time, and using them to the max.

He pointed out that Cardiff is a great facility precisely because of it’s funky currents and continuous nature. Further if there is no water around in the rivers what are you going to do? If you refuse to go to somewhere like Cardiff in a dry season then you have absolutely no place complaining that you aren’t getting any kayak practice in!

I decided that I would give it another go. Thankfully 2013 produced a glorious summer. Beautifully sunny most of the time, and very warm, so I went a number of times. I learnt how the water worked more and I am now pretty comfortable there.

I still need to chuck myself into features for side surfing etc, but I am now happy to go there. Yes it is busy, but not all the time, and yes the rafts can be annoying. Just get over it. You are there to practice skills. Enjoy the fact that you are on the water. If there is no water in the rivers would you rather be sat at home? Enjoy the fact that you can take a break and grab some food and coffee easily. Stop looking at the negatives and start seeing the positives.

So now we come to variety. A lot of clubs will go to the same old rivers and places. The lack of variety in the places that people visit, or the lines that they take can also result in mind lock.

A constant complaint of coaches is that at places like Tryweryn people will always catch the same eddies in the same order. One complaint is that they are obsessed with catching eddies in the first place! There are so many other skills to learn, and the idea that “going straight down the river” is something anyone can do with ease is once again a mind locked trait. Going straight down the river is not so simple if you are using the river, the waves, and the stroke placements to make a smooth and flowing continuous journey. True, you could just crash down the middle and through all the stoppers slowing you down in the process. Or you could spend some time learning how to use the water. You won’t learn this by constant micro eddy catching.

So there you have it. Mind lock = bad.

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